by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
In a state tournament with no clear favorite, Elk River advanced to the semifinals Tuesday with a victory they expected over St. Cloud Tech, 5-2, at the University of Minnesota.
The Elks, who had beaten Tech by the same score during the regular season, now face Wayzata in the semifinals, a duel of the last two state champions. East Ridge and Minnetonka are other teams still going.
“Before the playoffs started, there were seven or eight teams who figured they had a chance to win,” said Elk coach Randy Ronning. “Coming into state, I’d say five teams felt they could win it.
One of them was Mounds View, the top-ranked, top-seeded team which beat Elk River 4-3 a month ago.
However, East Ridge avenged its only loss of the year by upsetting the Mustangs 4-3 in a three-hour match. Minnetonka topped Rochester Mayo 4-3 and Wayzata repelled Mahtomedi 5-2.
In the semifinals Wednesday, East Ridge (21-1) takes Minnetonka (15-2) at 8 a.m. followed by the Elks (27-3) vs. Wayzata (25-4) at 10 a.m. The third-place match will be held at 2 p.m. and the finals at 4 p.m.
“We scrimmaged Wayzata. It was pretty close. It will be a close match,” said Sam Gearou, who’s beaten the opponent he expects to be facing.
Asked if coaches talk about their chances of winning it all, Gearou said, “They don’t say much about that. We’re just playing one round at a time.”
Josh Gearou, Sam Gearou and Jordan Haack took singles matches against Tech while Nathan Chanthamontry lost a three-setter. Doubles were all close, with Logann Burns/Noah Steichen and Joe Wetherille/Tanner Hermanson winning for the Elks, and Tyler Creelman/Zeke Delain falling in three sets.
Burns and Steichen, seniors at No. 1, won 6-4, 6-4 over Andy Foley, the Tigers’ basketball star, and Brady Roden.
“We made the right shots at the right time, I guess,” said Steichen. “They were very good at the net and it was tough to get the first one past them.”
Steichen is playing in his second state tournament after watching his older brother Zach play in two of them.
“Definitely, this is what you work for all season,” said Steichen. “There’s no place else with atmosphere like this.”
When the kids heard about Mounds View’s demise, it reinforced what they already knew about the unpredictable field.
“Even coming in, we knew it was wide open,” said Steichen, “and then you have this big upset in the first match.”
Ronning noted that over the past five years the Elks and Wayzata are “probably the two teams with the most success.”
The Elks beat Wayzata 5-2 for the 2012 state championship (and still have four starters from that team) and placed fourth in last year’s state tournament while the Trojans won it all, beating Minnetonka 7-0 in the finals. Wayzata has won three titles, the others in 1993 and 1999.
“We know Wayzata will be very disciplined,” said Ronning. “Their coach (Jeff Prondzinski) is a disciplinarian and always has them playing their best this time of the year.”
When the two teams scrimmaged a few weeks ago, Wayzata prevailed in five of seven matches, although they were shortened (pro-10) matches.
Elk River 5, St. Cloud Tech 2
(1) Joshua Gearou, ER, def. Riley Bates 6-1, 7-5
(2) Samuel Gearou, ER, def. Riley Peterson 6-2, 6-2
(3) Lucas Conboy, SCT, def. Nathan Chanthamontry 0-6, 7-5, 6-3
(4) Jordan Haack, ER, def. Samuel Nelson 6- 0, 6-1
(1) Logann Burns-Noah Steichen, ER, def. Andy Foley-Brady Roden 6-4, 7-5
(2) Jay Kedrowski-Michael Kline, SCT, def. Tyler Creelman-Zeke Delain 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
(3) Joe Wetherille-Tanner Hermanson, ER, def. Jesse Amdahl-Landon Ridpath 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.